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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Living and Dying in America

Difficult Births
Was This Baby Swaddled to Death?
Colonial Medicine
Pewter, & Poison

Lives Cut Short
Chapel Burials
Settling In

As threats of starvation and conflict receded, colonial society stabilized.

Recreation of a settlement at Historic St. Mary's City.
Image courtesy: Smithsonian Institution


In 1634, a new English colony was founded in the northern Chesapeake, at a place the settlers named St. Mary’s City. Like Virginia, Maryland’s first years were fragile. But, at St. Mary’s City, the colonists planted crops immediately and established peaceful relations with the local American Indians. Maryland also prospered from the tobacco trade, but it differed from Virginia in another respect. The English crown granted the land to a Roman Catholic—Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore. Maryland had no established state religion.

Image courtesy: Smithsonian Institution

But in 1688, a revolution in England overthrew James II. The Calverts’ charter ended: Maryland became a royal colony. Its capital moved to Annapolis in 1695. Religious tolerance ended. St. Mary’s City was abandoned and turned into farmland. Its rural setting helped to preserve the fragile ruins of the early settlement under a thin layer of plowed soil.



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